Your internet connection has been crawling for weeks. You've done everything you can think of: you've checked for viruses and malware but your PC is as clean as an operating table. Your computer has the right amount of RAM for the stuff you do, and you've even disabled memory-hogging visual effects. But still, your favorite sites take forever to load, and sometimes the browser crashes.
Well, maybe it's not you – maybe it's your internet provider. To find out, you have to determine what your optimal speed should be, and then rule out that it's not your computer – or even the layout of your house – slowing things down.
Find your optimum performance
A simple way to find out if your connection is as fast as it should be is to use McAfee's free Internet Speedometer or the Internet Speed Test, which tracks how long it takes for your computer to send and receive information. Once you run the Speedometer, it shows on a dial how fast your connection is (in kilobytes) compared with typical speeds from different kinds of connections.
For instance, if you're using a 56K Modem, it should run at 40 KBPS (kilobytes per second). Anything less means you're not running as fast as you could be.
Confirm it's your connection
To rule out that it's your computer causing the problem, have another computer on your network run the Speedomoter. If it's also slow and you're using a wireless router, make sure nothing is in the way of the signal from the router to your computer. Doors and walls can interfere with the connection, so it's best to be in the same room as the access point. Even microwaves, cordless phones and other radiowave-emitting devices have been known to mess up wifi connections, so make sure they're turned off or not kept in the same area as your router.
Check network security
A slow internet connection can also be caused by bandwidth poaching. This usually happens with wireless users whose router isn't secure. If you don't have a password up, stop reading this and set up a password right now. Not only will you keep out poachers who are taking up your bandwidth, but you'll also be protecting your privacy: thieves like using insecure routers to get at people's financial information.
Call your ISP
If none of the above helps, you should call your ISP. Be sure to let them know you've gone through all the above steps and that nothing has worked. They should be able to help you do a traceroute and other diagnostics to see what exactly is happening with your connection. Note for dial-up users: sometimes a slow connection is caused by troubles in the phone line itself. If you've ever noticed excessive fuzz and crackling while making a call, the wires in your house could be old. You'll need to call your ISP or phone company to get the wires repaired or replaced.